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Maji-Maji-War (1905-1907/1908)

Ngoni chief Songea Mbano

The newly introduced poll tax, which was about four times higher than the previous cottage tax, as well as the ban on hunting game and land expropriation, forced the colonized to work on the plantations. In the process, they experienced humiliation, beatings, and oppression. As a sign of protest, members of the Wamatumbi destroyed German cotton fields in July 1905. Houses and settlements were looted and set on fire, administrative personnel were chased away, and military posts were stormed. This revolt developed into a mass movement, a transcultural and transregional struggle against foreign rule that involved more than 20 ethnic groups and covered all of southern Tanzania, a 100,000-square-meter area.

The Liberation War (Swahili: Vita vya Ukombozi) or Maji-Maji War plays a major role in Tanzania's national history. The name Maji (Swahili: water) is due to the religious-spiritual narrative of miracle water (made from maize, sorghum and water from the Rufiji River): The healer and prophet Kinjikitile Ngwale prophesied as early as 1904 that there would be an uprising of the natives against foreign rule, and that the fighters would be invulnerable to the rifle bullets of the Germans through the Maji. The bullets will - depending on the promise - roll off the local fighters like water or turn into water. 

Since the native fighters were initially clearly superior in numbers, as well as motivated, united and organized by the Maji promise, they achieved quick successes in the beginning. They brought almost half of the colonial territory under secure control, while the Germans had neither the overview nor the military means to fight against them. However, due to more modern weapons and the ever-growing Schutztruppe, the African fighters lost more and more often in open field battles. They switched to guerrilla tactics, using surprise attacks and local knowledge to their advantage.

The German response to the resistance was a "scorched earth" policy: by destroying and annihilating wells, fields, crops, livestock and homes, they deprived the locals of their livelihood and forced them into submission. Over time, the resistance collapsed, and the civilian population no longer supported the uprising. In addition, German troops killed fighters* in battles and expeditions, hanged leaders, and forced the population to watch executions. Governor von Götzen declared the war over in the summer of 1907, but individual battles continued until 1908. Between 180,000 and 300,000 people lost their lives, almost 1000 of them on the German side. 

Image source: Ngoni chief Songea Mbano, by  Downluke  - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link (Interesting background information about the image).

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